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first LJ posting
Elijah Wood’s acting: Why you have to think (and look) twice.

Having been a fan of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga for many years, I had always avoided watching the Peter Jackson films because I was afraid they would change my appreciation of the books. However last year, I finally succumbed to the temptation, and I was completely blown away, not the least because of Elijah Wood’s performance as Frodo (my favorite character). Since then, I have become a real admirer of his work. When reading comments and reviews about his various roles I was really struck by how much opinions on the quality of his acting varied.  Perhaps this is normal for any actor but in his case the differences of opinion seemed extreme to me. I intend to use the first few entries of this Live Journal to explore this enigma and I hope for some response.

Instead of beginning with Frodo (of which so much has been written already), I thought I’d begin with his recent role as Ryan in Wilfred. In the same week in which he was nominated as best comedy actor for this role by the International Press Academy (Satellite Award), I read a blog review by a Brazilian reviewer who had a very different opinion. He described the performance as sub-standard, mainly criticizing Elijah’s lack of comedic timing, which he attributed to a lack of experience with comedic roles.  To me, this is a typical example of how people’s opinions are formed by preconceived ideas. In a traditional comedy you might expect the role of Ryan to be played for laughs. But Wilfred is not a traditional comedy. It is a psychological drama, played out through comic situations. Through the entire series, Ryan is unsure of “who, what, why” Wilfred is. For the character of Ryan, a traditional, sharp comedic timing would be entirely wrong, because he has to think just that micro-second longer to evaluate the situation. So, you really have to think about the concept of Wilfred before being able to judge the performance properly.

I was reminded of my own reaction to an early promo of Wilfred. After Wilfred has said something disgusting, Ryan replies “You’re an animal”. When I first heard this, I thought the delivery was off; that there should have been more emphasis on the first syllable of the word “animal”. Thinking about it now, I realize I was wrong. You would only want to stress the word “Animal” if you thought you were talking to a human. But Ryan knows he’s not. So the neutral delivery is entirely appropriate. It’s a tiny detail but it shows how tricky the role of Ryan must have been to play. What I’m trying to say is that Elijah has captured the “truth” of Ryan; he really “disappeared” into the character, as he did in so many of his other roles.

One of the reasons for the different views on Elijah’s acting may be his wide-ranging choice of roles. People may find it difficult to forget his previous characters, in itself a sign of the strength of his characterizations. More about that in a future entry.

Congratulations on your first, very interesting, post!! I've left a reply to your comment on my own LJ. I won't comment at any length on this post just yet as there's something I want to look for first. It's an article in which Jason Gann talks about how Elijah completely 'got' the part of Ryan at the audition compared to others who didn't. Personally, I think he plays the character to absolute perfection! I hope I can find it- I'll get back to you:)

Your recommendation of my LJ to your flist certainly worked. Quite some response! After being a silent admirer of E. for over a year, and reading everyting I could find about him, I am now thrilled to join the discussion. Many thanks!

Edited at 2011-12-11 03:19 pm (UTC)

I am here on the strength of not_alone's recommendation.

Excellent first entry and excellent point.

Especially recently, I note that many reviews of projects Elijah Wood is involved in, are too much coloured by preconceptions.

Because the general public got to know Elijah Wood in his role as Frodo, he can't play a cowardly American turning into a bad-ass street fighter hooligan.

Because he was Frodo, he can't play comedy.

Because he was Frodo, he can't play a mass murderer of women in the tradition of Hitchcock's 'Psycho', only much gorier !

For God's sake, he is an actor ! He can play all of these characters, and more !

Why watch some movie / tv series, if all you are ready to see is Frodo in a setting a Hobbit doesn't belong in / to ? ? ?

Yeah, I get it - Elijah is a bit smaller than the average 'leading man'. At the time of Green Street Hooligans, Elijah was a bit stockier than he is today. Yet, when he transformed into a fighting member of the Green Street Elite, wearing these stylish clothes, and giving it all in the fight scenes, I believed him. He was wiry and strong. And even though he was smaller than most of his adversaries and not as muscled, he was quick, and his punches were fast and violent. So, yes, I could see him as that fighter. You shouldn't always judge a book by its cover, and you should see the role / the character, and not the former roles the actor had been portraying.

Is Johnny Depp unbelievable, because you always see the young man in 21 Jump Street (1990) in him ? Is Orlando Bloom unbelievable, because you'll always see a blond elf, 'dancing' in each of his movements, in him ?

No, but Elijah Wood can't possibly play anything other than Frodo - - - OR CAN HE ?

Preconceptions about the actor Elijah Wood, and preconceptions about the way a certain genre (for instance comedy) SHOULD be.

As a reviewer, you should try to get an unbiassed view of the new, fresh thing, and let the film / tv show tell its story on its own - regardless of the past, which has nothing to do with this new thing you are watching / reviewing.


- Karin.

P.S. Sorry about the many edits. English is not my first language, and sometimes I detect mistakes only after repeated reading . . .

Edited at 2011-12-10 10:01 pm (UTC)

I agree with you, Karin. Elijah is a much more versatile actor than he gets credit for. I loved him in Green Street Hooligans especially. It was wonderful the way his character changed from the beginning to the end of the film and Elijah handled the transition perfectly.

And I thought he was fabulous in Wilfred. I'm so glad the show was renewed for another season.

Welcome to LJ! :)

Elijah Wood’s performance as Frodo not only brought me to the world of fanfiction, but brought me a world of friends I never dreamed I'd have. His Frodo enriched the lives of so many of us. I've read the books many times since the late 1970's, and now have a new 'layer' to appreciate about the Professor's world.

Thank you.

My Tolkien enthousiasm is also just as strong as ever and film-Frodo added an extra dimension. Looking foreward to the LJ experience.

Welcome to LJ. Judging from your post, I know you'll feel at home here.

Thanks, I'm sure I will. Thrilled to be able to talk to so many people about what interests me.

hi there and welcome! got here by way of not_alone.

boy, you start off strong, and i love it.

i don't know what reviewer didn't think elijah is deserving of a nomination, but he's nominated as an actor in a comedy series, not a comedic actor. that alone tells me he has the chops to do whatever kind of role is put before him. it's a simple straight man/funny man show and it doesn't make any sense to have 2 funny men. and from what i've read, it's much harder to be the straight man in this kind of team and i think elijah does it perfectly.

i'll be looking forward to your other views on this. :-)

Hi ladysnaps,


The reviewer probably didn't know about the nomination but I had just read that critical review and it irritated me. It made me think again about the diametrically opposing views on E's acting. This has puzzled me for a long time.

I have also read that playing the straight man is more difficult than playing the funny one. Ryan must have been extra challenging because the reality of the situation is in question all the time. But Elijah has said in interviews that he likes roles with a surreal twist in it.

I agree that he has the chops to play whatever role is put before him, as long as he is really interested in the character. That seems to determine his choice of roles. Good for him.


Welcome to LJ a very interesting,post I think Elijah play very good in all of his films I think he is brillant!:))


Hi Mumis,

Nice to meet you here. Yes, he is brilliant and because his roles are all so different it is always a surprise how the character will be.

(Deleted comment)
Hi mews,

Thanks for your comments.

Elijah has said about the role of Ryan that he tries to play it as realistically as possible. And that is difficult in such a surreal comedy. I agree with you completely that Wilfred is a whole new creature in the tv landscape. From what I've read on twitter it was only towards the end of the season that most people realized that it's more than just a "comedy". And it changed their opinion; some liked it more, others less. All very interesting.

Hi, I'm here by way of not_alone's rec.

I enjoyed your entry. Frodo is my favorite character and Elijah's Frodo opened a world of LJ fandom and friends I had never dreamed of before. I hope you like it here.

Thanks addie,

I am sure I am going to like it here.

Welcome to LJ! I'm a friend of Not-alone.

Hi! I'm a long-time LJ friend of not_alone and have had the pleasure of meeting her and her husband. Welcome to LJ Land.

However last year, I finally succumbed to the temptation, and I was completely blown away, not the least because of Elijah Wood’s performance as Frodo.

I'm glad you finally saw the movies, but how sad that you never got to see them on a big screen. I read the books many years ago and was thrilled beyond belief when I heard they were being adapted for film. And Elijah playing Frodo was the icing on the cake, as they say. I had been an Elijah fan since his movie The Good Son when he was a child.

It was because of my interest in the LOTR films and Elijah that I first got the Internet. Gosh, that seems a lifetime ago now. I honestly have Elijah to thank for all the incredible friends I have here and at other Internet sites.

I hope my friend bellewood friends you. Like you, she didn't discover Elijah until well after the LOTR films were released, but she is now definitely one of his most devoted fans.....really devoted. LOL

Edited at 2011-12-11 02:18 am (UTC)

Thanks yeuxdebleu,

Yes, I am well aware that I am late to the party and missed 10 years of fun. I have only been an Elijah fan since I first saw the LOTR films, so I have a lot of catching up to do. LJ seems to be a good place to do that.

I love your post, so accurate and so true in my eyes as well. Welcome to the crazy and FUN world that is LJ : ) !

Welcome to Livejournal! I'm Patrick from Twitter :-)

Great first post! One of the things I like about Elijah is that he's always involved in roles or projects that have an extra something that makes them interesting, and different from anything he's done before and, during interviews, he always gives hundreds of reasons for having chosen a certain role. Everything in his career is deliberate. He is a true artist.

Hi Patrick,
Good to see you.

Very interesting remark you make there "Everything in his career is deliberate".

I have been wondering about that. Sometimes I think as you do, sometimes it seems to me that he just "goes with the flow"; taking roles as they present themselves instead of really long-term career planning.

One thing is certain, as he said in the recent BAFTA interview: “Every decision that I make, creatively … is true to who I am as a person, always”.

welcome to LJ-land! (here by way of Not Alone) An interesting post, indeed. It seems to me that *this* is how great artists, whether they are actors, musicians, writers (etc)*are*: they make what they do seem effortless. Maybe, sometimes, it is. Maybe they are such artists, so knowledgeable and steeped in their craft that it is like breathing to them to produce work of stunning beauty. Frequently other people mistake this *ease* as "not acting" (Jimmy Stewart, I think, is a prime example of this misconception).

Whereas I do not think Elijah has been spot-on in all of his roles, one thing that really counts is that, if he has a *fail*, it isn't for lack of trying. For that, and a myriad of other reasons, ya gotta love him.

As for playing comedy, there are so many precursors that tell you that he's capable of such. Ice Storm, while certainly NOT a comedy, had many moments which straddled the line. While I do not like Ice Storm, the moments were played wonderfully. A difficult film, a difficult character, beautifully realized. Another precursor: Huck Finn. Delicate and lovely timing.

And there is a sad sort of humour in the Artful Dodger. To me, I think these dissonant-seeming *things* are what Elijah does best: the sort of characters/moments that might best be described by stealing a line from JRRT: they are 'joys like swords'. Even the happy/comedic/light is tinged by something deeper. From Chaplin to Lucy, that is what makes for really great comedy: the ability to project the heart beneath the laugh. It's never cheap or easy. It's wonderfully textured and deep.

From the moment I saw "Avalon", I knew that here was someone to watch. I think I was most blown away by "The War": chops way beyond what might have been expected in one so young.

And Frodo? I nay-sayed and went "WTF!!!!!!?????" every inch of the way (even though I was respecing the existing chops, it seemed a horrible mis-cast to me). I *spat* on the casting-room-floor of my mind....right up until I went into the theater. And then there was only magic.

well, i've blabbed on long enough! Welcome,again, to LJ!

Thank you jan_u_win, for your thoughtful comments.

>>Frequently other people mistake this *ease* as "not acting"<<

Yes, that has also occurred to me as one of the possible explanations for statements like: "He cannot act". I really don't know how much of that seemingly effortless ease is pure talent and how much is hard work. Probably 99% hard work.

>>these dissonant-seeming *things* are what Elijah does best: the sort of characters/moments that might best be described by stealing a line from JRRT: they are 'joys like swords'<<

With Elijah, you can always expect an extra layer in the character. But it does need a certain perceptiveness to pick that up and not all people seem able to do it. Perhaps another reason for the contrasting views on his acting.

>>....right up until I went into the theater. And then there was only magic.<<

And now, after 10 years, you are still writing poetry about Frodo and his actor ("Of Humans and Hobbits"). Wonderful, thank you!

Edited at 2011-12-11 09:21 pm (UTC)

Hi Ambree! Good to see you here in LJ-land, we're all friends here and I hope I can friend you and you'll friend me back.

I do agree with what you say about Elijah's wide-ranging acting, his choice of roles and the way this seems to cause problems for some people.

I'm glad you finally got round to watching the LOTR films. Frodo is my favourite character too and I think Elijah is brilliant in everything he does!

Excellent, thought-provoking first LJ post :-)

Hi janejanejane,

Thanks for friending me and I have friended you back. I have now seen the LOTR films many times but still the books far outdo the films in terms of the time I have spent on them. Both always a joy.

I am looking foreward to the discussions here on LJ.

Hello and welcome to LJ. I'm here via not_alone.
Without Elijah Wood and his brilliant performance of Frodo I'd never met all these wonderful people. I'm sure you'll feel at home because The Shire is just here and friends are all around us.
Enjoy it, dear!

Thank you julchen,

I am sure I am going to enjoy the LJ experience.